Twenty miles south of the dead center of Virginia is Farmville, population slightly over 8,000. Its quaint downtown is dominated by the Green Front Furniture company and Longwood College, when, in session, adds another 5,000 to the population. Both times we’ve been here, school has been out, so it has been very quiet.
We’ve ridden the High Bridge Trail twice in the past month, which is surprising since it’s three hours from our home, but it fell along the route of our travels both times. The trail is 31 miles long, with its eponymous bridge spanning 2,400 feet in length and 125 feet above the Appomattox River, making it the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and among the longest in America. (Well, there you go!)
The trail is what we call a “Zen ride,” which means there’s not a lot of visual variety so it’s great for just being in your head while you pedal. (Not a place where Kellie likes to spend much time.) Zen rides are not uncommon for rail-to-trails since the railroad tracks were often laid through large, wooded regions. So, like the High Bridge Trail, they’re tree-lined and shady, which is blissful on days when the sun is blazing.
We parked right in the center of town on Main Street which bisects the crushed limestone trail almost exactly in the middle. Conveniently at this intersection, there are clean, air conditioned restrooms, while more rustic ones with “vault toilets” are located along the trail. (We had to look these up – they’re “waterless, non-flush toilets that store excreta in a large airtight underground vault.” Eww.)
There are no other amenities along the trail except the trailer that we encountered on our first trip that sold water out of an ice-filled cooler, along with various tourism chotchkes made by local artisans. Kind of an unusual place for this pop-up, actually. We don’t think you can count on it being there, though, so fill up your water bottles before you set out.
You can buy water right at the Main Street intersection at The Outdoor Adventure Store, a bike sales, repairs and rental shop operated by Mark, a very entertaining and helpful biking and kayaking enthusiast. The owners of the store also have a nearby glamping resort, Sandy River Outdoor Adventure, that features teepees, cabins, a zip line, kayaking, etc. (Apparently, this is a huge kayaking area – who knew?)
On our first ride on the trail, we headed west 4.5 miles to see the famous High Bridge, which oddly, was more interesting to read about than to ride over. It looks out on a wide expanse of trees. A whole valley of trees. Just trees – except for a narrow and almost hidden segment of the Appomattox River.
(Here’s a quick summary of the history of the bridge: Built in 1853, it was the site of a 2-day battle toward the end of the Civil War. On April 6, 1965, the Union tried to destroy it to keep the Confederate army from crossing back into Northern occupied territory. Then the following day, the retreating Rebels tried to destroy it to keep the Yankees from pursuing them. Fortunately, neither side was successful in burning the bridge and Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse just two days later. That’s also a very interesting place to visit if you’re in that neck of the woods!)
We continued to bike approximately 10.5 miles past the bridge and, having passed only a handful of walkers and bikers, a few deserted intersections and some vault toilets, the trail ended abruptly at a lonely picnic table surrounded by woods. No signs indicated the end of trail, nor was there a trailhead parking lot. So, after practically skidding to a stop, we stood there scratching our heads for a few minutes then headed back.
Returning to our starting point at the Main Street intersection, we rode about 200 yards east to Three Roads Brewing. We sat outside on the large trailside patio sampling their beers until a sudden squall lifted an umbrella three feet above the table in which it was planted and threatened to impale us. After helping the staff to quickly close the remaining umbrellas, we moved inside where Kellie had a refreshing lemongrass blonde (“Top Down”) and Jim had a double IPA (“Drive by Juice”) that he deemed better than some of his favorite bigger name brands. The “High Bride Helles Lager” was also nice.
The second time we visited Farmville, the Monday of a 4th of July weekend, we rode the other half of the trail. Anticipating the soft surface and total lack of traffic on the trail, we decided to (gasp!) throw caution to the wind and ride helmet-less. It was wonderfully liberating – like being 10 years old again!
We cruised at a very leisurely pace because a) we were tired from a 100-mile 3-day weekend, and two, there was more resistance on the unpaved trail. Jim wore his new biking shorts from Crank Arm Brewing in Raleigh, NC and was a vibrant vision in yellowness!
This end of the trail runs east briefly then due south. While hauntingly familiar (it’s almost identical to the western portion of the trail), brief glimpses of water, overhead bridges and slightly more varied scenery made it more interesting.
Sadly, Three Roads Brewing is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (even, ill-advisedly, on holiday Mondays). Mark from the bike store, who is also one of the founders of the brewery, recommended the North Street Press Club (a former printing press), the Virginia Tasting Cellar and the Catbird Rooftop Terrace atop the Hotel Weyanoke.
We followed his advice and went to North Street Press Club. Great call! Not only did they have three of the brewery’s most popular beers on tap, they had really good food. Not your usual pub food – pad thai, flatbreads, tacos and egg rolls were on the menu, along with gourmet burgers named after famous journalists. It’s also a pretty cool place with an outdoor patio, a pool table, a large stage for frequent open mic nights, and a raised bar that overlooks the entire restaurant. Friendly people at the bar and behind it – so we highly recommend refueling there.
Got any other thoughts or recommendations about the High Bridge Trail or the surrounding area? Please let us know in the comments area below.